Saturday, July 30, 2005

Toll road interests win big in Federal Transportation Bill

Basin's cut in $286.4 billion highway bill?

$11.6 million, counting Cotton Flat overpass

July 30, 2002

Congress' two-year stalemate on a new transportation reauthorization bill ended Friday with House and Senate passage of a $286.4 billion plan, including $11.6 million for six Permian Basin highway projects.

Both bodies were decisive with a 412-8 margin in the House and 74-26 in the Senate, giving La Entrada al Pacifico its long coveted national high priority corridor designation and enhancing its federal funding eligibility.

"We didn't get all the funding requested, but we came pretty close," said Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Midland. "Getting La Entrada al Pacifico designated a high priority trade corridor was very important to me and I'm glad we got that accomplished."

He said it was also gratifying to up Texas' return rate from 89 to 92 percent on the gasoline tax dollars its motorists pay and sweeten its annual highway funding from $2.1 billion to $2.9 billion. "This is a 42 percent increase over guaranteed funding in the last transportation reauthorization bill," said Conaway.

"It will pour hundreds of millions of dollars into the state's economy."

Midland-Odessa Transportation Alliance President James Beauchamp said U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land, Texas House Speaker Tom Craddick, R-Midland, and Conaway were influential. "DeLay headed the conference committee and was the shepherd for all Texas issues," Beauchamp said.

"We've been lucky to have our own congressman for the Midland-Odessa area, who was there and available to represent our interests in Washington."

Beauchamp said the gas tax return rate will reach 92 percent by 2008 and will be raised by an as yet unknown amount in 2006.

Trimmed by 20 percent to help meet President Bush's spending guidelines, Basin funding includes $1.2 million for an Interstate 20-Cotton Flat Road overpass west of Midland that will give better access to Midland Memorial Hospital. The project had already been appropriated $3 million.

A 16-mile La Entrada-related Highway 349 reliever route from Highway 191 to the Lamesa Highway north of Midland was allotted $2 million, bringing its local, state and federal backing to $20 million. Construction will begin in the spring or summer next year, said Texas Department of Transportation engineer A.J. Shakyaver of Odessa Friday.

Other Basin jewels in the highway treasure chest include $1.6 million to widen 349 to four lanes over 60 miles from Midland to Lamesa; $1.6 million toward making U.S. 385 a four-lane road over 30 miles from Crane to McCamey; and $2 million to complete $20 million in funding for JBS Parkway traffic interchanges over Business 20 and I-20 at Odessa.

"The JBS Parkway project is important in Odessa to provide a better connection to its industrial park and all the people who work out there," said Beauchamp. "The state only has money to fund a third of its projects, so anything we can do to leverage funding helps meet our mobility needs."

TxDOT spokesman Glen Larum of Odessa said the six-year bill "is a major win for Texas transportation" with $669 million for 220 projects.

It creates a $15 billion Private Activity Bond program for intermodal facilities, encouraging private sector investments and partnerships and advancing Trans Texas Corridor plans.

It'll add options for new federal highways to be toll roads and for local communities to use Transportation Development Credits to meet federal road and transit match requirements.

Larum said Texas will now be one of five pilot states to assume Federal Highway Administration responsibilities and oversee compliance to the National Environmental Policy Act.

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta will give states broader authority to experiment with design-build project delivery methods, he said.

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